Straddling the dapper and the sketchy: Tim Key on his new show ‘Megadate’

Straddling the dapper and the sketchy, comedian and poet Tim Key’s new show Megadate, now beginning a UK wide tour, is the story of a bid to woo by traipsing across the capital, dragging his date around London’s tacky and seedy underbelly. And then, the morning after: a Grolsch fuelled session of unrequited texting, a solo morning bowling session and a search for a lost bank card. Key’s poetry is peppered with short, low-key, haiku-style and hilarious readings which he compliments with black and white short films. His delivery is flirtatious and conspiratorial. He’ll give you a nudge and a wink and then you’ll wonder if his elbow was a bit sharp, or maybe that he was squinting at you instead. He’s wearing a suit dripping with Kronenbourg. He’s relentlessly cheeky while appearing to be on the perpetual verge of a mental breakdown. Precisely the kind of charm that you’d expect from the only member of the Cambridge Footlights – the University’s  star-making comedy society – to sneak in without having attended the University.

While Megadate is his first foray into solo performance since 2014’s Single White Slut, Tim is a serial collaborator. He’s proved himself up to the task in Dave’s Taskmaster, been locked in a cupboard (BBC, Inside No. 9), acted as poet in residence for Charlie Brooker (Screenwipe), clambered up a tree in a play by ‘renowned recluse’ and comedian Daniel Kitson’s (Tree), held his own as Alan Partidge’s sidekick (Alpha Papa), and even worked with Armando Iannucci on the special effects for Eastenders (Time Trumpet).

Ahead of his three nights in Manchester in May and UK wide tour, we talked to Tim about writing for Instagram, recording an album of poetry and his love of the Russian avant-garde.

The State of the Arts: The last time I saw you in Manchester you were talking to Daniel Kitson up a tree in the Royal Exchange in ‘Tree’. How did that collaboration come about?
Daniel is a huge fan and offered me enough money to at least listen to his plans. I think I agreed to do it in July, he wrote it in August, I read it in September and we performed it two weeks later. So basically a nightmare. But if he can come up with another 90 minutes of theatre and makes another eye-watering financial offer I’m ready to consider a second collaboration.

TSOTA: To what extent are you performing a character on stage?
Ha. Mm. It’s definitely a persona, bare minimum. It used to be a character I think, a drunken boorish poet guy, that was about 12 years ago. But now that’s definitely fallen away a bit so, mm, yes I guess more me. But more confident, charming and charismatic than me. I wish I could be that guy. Actually no that would also be a disaster. Leave him to it.

TSOTA: Your poems seem to work just as brilliantly across multiple platforms – on the stage, radio, TV, print and Instagram. Is there much crossover between them, or do you write specifically for the medium?
Ah good question… I used to write to a kind of spec on Charlie Brooker’s stuff, and in my radio show I sometimes try and write one that lasts about five minutes and I can hang the show around it. But usually I just write any old thing and see where it fits. Live, on stage, that’s my bread and butter. I can kind of nod a bit so people will like it more.

TSOTA: What was it like living inside the BBC3 website for three weeks (a 2007 project for the BBC with comedy group Cowards)
That was a loooong time ago, we were four little boys who didn’t know what the hell was going on so leapt at the chance to make some “online content”. We were all quite prolific writers so it worked well for us, we wrote tons of stuff specially for it, and were pretty proud of it. But to be fair you’re the first person who I’ve come across who saw it happen.

TSOTA: You recorded an album with a string quartet in a boat – an excellent recording despite your guitarists’ constant interruptions. What kind of boat was it? (Tim Key. With a String Quartet. On a Boat.)
I don’t know much about boats but I’ll have a go. It was quite long, I remember that. It was on the Thames. It was smaller than a ferry, bigger than a dinghy. There was a kitchen on it and it was very hot. But it definitely was a genuine boat and I definitely did go a quite nice shade of green on the second day.

TSOTA: You’ve recorded several BBC radio documentaries on Russian literature / avant-garde art (Gogol / Daniil Kharms). Are there any more Russians you’d like to cover or make us aware of?
Thank you for taking an interest in my weird docs. I’ve got half an eye on a chap called Tariverdiev. He’s an amazing composer who makes some fairly nuts/romantic/beautiful tunes. I discovered him last year and as always everything I’ve done since is underscored by him. Megadate would have been impossible without Tariverdiev bubbling along in the background.

TSOTA: Are you heading up to the Edinburgh Festival this August?
Yerrrrsss. Doing the last ten days I think. I took Megadate up as a rough and ready work in progress last year and I’m determined to take it up again so I can perform it looking bored and tired and utterly dead behind the eyes.

Tim appears at the Manchester Dancehouse on 17/05, 18/05 and 30/05. Tickets, and the rest of the UK wide tour dates, can be found here

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